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Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain

Published by: Clare Brotherwood on 29th May 2018 | View all blogs by Clare Brotherwood

When it comes to casting for the part of Sherlock Holmes, Robert Powell wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Perhaps I live too much in the past. I still remember interviewing him in the Scottish Borders in the Seventies when he was making The 39 Steps. He had just become an overnight sensation for his award-winning role as Jesus of Nazareth and, even though he was standing at the head of a loch dressed as a tramp, I swear he was surrounded by an aura!

As for Arthur Conan Doyle’s celebrated sleuth, Jeremy Brett takes some beating.

But things aren’t always what they used to be in this new play by acclaimed playwright Simon Reade.

It’s now 30 years to the day since Moriarty - and, supposedly Holmes - fell to their deaths over the Reichenbach Falls; only Holmes is very much alive and living incognito on the South Coast when, coincidentally, a body is found on his private beach and he receives a visit from Mary Watson, the estranged wife of his right-hand man and biographer Dr John Watson.

What develops only the theatregoer will discover but, apart from a good helping of mystery, jealousy and revenge, Reade, the former literary manager for the Royal Shakespeare Company, has injected a wagon-load of humour into this quirky tale which also involves another of Conan Doyle’s interests… spiritualism. And with that come ghosts and special effects, courtesy of magic consultant John Bulleid. Even the curtain which sweeps slowly across the stage between scenes looks like a… haunting of ghosts?

The play is set in 1922 and Reade, together with director David Grindley, make the most of those revolutionary times, not as Conan Doyle would have presented it but a light-hearted entertainment nonetheless, and despite an almost bare stage except for when the action moves the familiar surroundings of 221b Baker Street.

The thread running through the production is Dr Watson’s account of the case in hand which he is transmitting to listeners on a new invention called the wireless. Timothy Kightley is the archetypal doctor: kindly, gentlemanly and somewhat bumbling, and not always au fait with modern gadgets, which adds to the fun of the evening.

As always, Liza Goddard is very much in command of her role: forthright and dominating; which leaves us with Robert Powell. I could never imagine him as the drug-raddled Holmes of Jeremy Brett, nor the animated Cumberbatch version, but then, in this production, Holmes is supposedly in his dotage – which leads us to another problem for although Powell is now in his 70s he doesn’t look or act old enough to be retired!

Only Roy Sampson, as Holmes’ older brother Mycroft, lives up to our expectations of a Conan Doyle character.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Curtain is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until June 2, and then continues touring.

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